The news that Ron Gilbert made a comedy pirate game should bring joy to any enthusiast’s ears. After all The Secret of Monkey Island is one of the most beloved games of all time and one of the highest regarded adventure games. However, as times change and the landscape changes so too do creative visions.
Scurvy Scallywags is filled with pirates and adventuring in a fun cartoony world, and it takes the form of a match 3, RPG hybrid game for iOS. Its premise is also fun. You are the hero off to collect the pieces of the Ultimate Sea Shanty that have been scattered over the seven seas, except that really all of those details make up the plot of a play that you and your fellow scallywags are putting on to the raucous cheers of the crowds. This premise lends itself to all sorts of humorous exchanges between the promoter of the play and your fellow actors who are all hamming it up.
You also have a world map, which is really just a linear line of islands and a course through them that I swear takes the longest most circuitous route possible. There are a number of locations on each island, each one of which is a match 3 board. At the last location of each, you will have a boss battle waiting for you and winning this battle means that you will receive a section of the sea shanty that the game then lovingly sings to you in all its boisterous pirate rhyme.
However, while the skin is all bright, colorful, and fun, it is just the skin to another match 3 puzzle game. Scurvy Scallywags does its best to be fresh. All of the items on its game boards are pirate and island themed. From gold coins to parrots to jugs of grog, the game commits to its theme. Soon enemies will show up, and you either have managed to increase your attack power above theirs before you confront them or you lose a heart of health. Attacking, of course, consists of matching up three sword icons. You have skills that can help fend off enemies or that can help with matching items, but they are on a cooldown counter, so that they can only be reused after a certain number of matches are made. Quest items will also enter the board, though they feature as a type of side quest that asks you to collect X amount of Y item.
There’s not a whole lot of room to work within the genre. Even adding leveling elements and battles has been done before thanks to the Puzzle Quest games. The one major change that I can see that this game adds is that when you make a match new items don’t drop down from the top but from whatever direction you swiped in, causing rows to collapse in that direction. As a result, the game adds a new degree of strategy in making your matches.
I’ve also come across some troubling situations somewhere around the fifth island a number of times. You lose some power after confronting one enemy and have to build it up again for the next. This lead to an annoying situation in which I had used up my skills, lost all my hearts, and in one case, spent all my resurrection money only to be quickly killed off again by an encroaching enemy, having found my funds depleted. I had the option to purchase the gold that I needed to live with real money or die and start from the very beginning. Thankfully, you get to keep all your skills and unlocks.
This happened to me twice at around the same location. Having to start all over is a bummer, but even before that, seeing you have no way out of the situation and that the game is just waiting for you to take your move is even worse. Somehow it feels like I lost the luck of the draw with no way to swap myself safely away, leaving me to face my fate somewhat unfairly.
But I’m willing to throw all of that out the window –- the ramping up of the difficulty, the pushing for spending real money to not die, and the general constraints of the genre –- because the game is addictive. Despite being sent back to the beginning and losing several hours of progress not once, but twice, I pressed on. I didn’t want to rage quit, I wanted to keep matching parrots and swords and fighting man scorpions. It can get tiring after a while, but it is an exemplar of the short game session style of play that the mobile platform is built for.
The short sessions of turn based play mean you can quickly put aside the game for a time without losing anything when you come back to it. It is the simple things that make Scurvy Scallywags so satisfying. Seeing the board explode with activity when you make a match that ends up in a combo, the fun sea shanties that comprise the soundtrack, and the eventual reward of hearing the silly verses of the Ultimate Sea Shanty, all serve to make any frustration worthwhile.